Sep 19, 2021
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“Robbed and made to starve to death”

The Russian Military Historical Society has published archival documents on the mass resettlement of Germans from Poland after the end of World War II. Then about 3.5 million people were expelled from the country. At the same time, contrary to the agreements to carry out resettlement in a humane way, the Polish authorities allowed massive cases of violence against internees. Evidence of the inappropriate attitude of the Poles towards the Germans reached the Soviet authorities in Germany, which did not leave them unattended and tried to suppress the oppression of German citizens at various levels. Experts note that the publication of such documents helps to shed light on the post-war reality and limit attempts to rewrite history.

The Russian Military Historical Society has published archival documents dedicated to the mass resettlement of Germans from the territory of post-war Poland, which was organized 75 years ago as part of the decree “on the separation of the Germans from the Polish people.” Approved at a conference in Potsdam in 1945, the Allied Control Council for Germany received an international mandate for deportation in cooperation with the Polish, Czechoslovak and Hungarian governments.

As follows from the published materials, in the plan adopted by the council in November of the same year, 3.5 million Germans were ordered to leave Poland and its new territories that were ceded to Warsaw as a result of World War II. In January 1946, an Anglo-Polish-Soviet memorandum was signed on the principles of resettlement of Germans in a “humanitarian and organized manner.” In the same year, Poland published a decree “on the exclusion of persons of German nationality from Polish society.”

Thus, the Germans, on an uncontested basis, had to leave their homes and follow to the Soviet and British occupation zones in Germany. It was planned to place 2 million settlers in the Soviet zone, and 1.5 million in the British. As specified in the RVIO, they were allowed to take with them only 500 Reichsmarks per person and “as much luggage as they can lift.” At the same time, the Polish authorities took upon themselves the obligation to provide food and other needs of people while on their territory. However, in fact, as evidenced by archival documents, the opposite happened. Already in December 1945, the head of the political department of the Soviet military administration in Germany, Arkady Sobolev, was presented with a report from the head of the echelon with German settlers, in which it was reported about the atrocities of the Poles on the Küstrin-Stargard-Stettin (Szczecin) railway route.

“While following the territory of Poland at Domb station, 6 km from Stargard, an attack was made on the train by 20-25 Polish soldiers armed with machine guns. They took away things from 1200 Germans … During the robbery, they fired along the train, so that the guards could not interfere … At the Peritz station, on Polish territory, a train was also robbed, two cars were robbed, all things were taken away from the Germans ” , – the report says.

In addition, the commander of the train said that the settlers told him how the Poles tried to persuade them to leave all their belongings in their abandoned apartments, “otherwise the Russians at the border will take everything away.”

Report of the Soviet Echelon Commander with IDPs

In January 1946, the Commissioner for Epidemics of the city of Löcknitz in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Dr. Sander, reported on the inhuman attitude of the Poles towards the Germans and the inhuman conditions of detention of refugees in transitional points. According to him, “immigrants arrive from the Polish occupation zone so robbed that they are almost naked”. In particular, he noted, the refugees told him that in the transition camp in Scheun (Stettin) they had to spend the night in a destroyed building of a sugar factory on a concrete floor, and almost all their belongings were confiscated.

“The last warm clothes are taken away by the Poles in Scheun. Even children are stripped naked. They are not supplied with food. In addition, they are subjected to unheard-of bodily torture by Polish soldiers, which cannot even be described individually. In recent nights it was up to 15 degrees of cold, ”Zander reported.

“Better death in hell than going back to Stettin”

Along with reports from officials about the plight of the migrants, the RVIO also published documents with excerpts from the letters of the Germans themselves, which at that time were collected by the military censorship bodies in Germany. According to their data, from March to April 1946 alone, 97 letters were recorded with complaints from German citizens expelled from Poland about violence and oppression by the Poles.

“During the occupation of Silesia by the Russian people there lived well, they did not need food, etc. And since July, when the Poles came to their place, everything went on a wheel. In Breslau, the Poles drove the Germans out of their apartments, steal furniture and force them to do unbearable work for free … You can’t turn Silesia into a torture chamber! Seeing a wounded man on the street, the Poles killed him. Relatives of the dead were robbed right in the cemeteries, taking away from them, in addition to their dresses, even flowers and wreaths, ”wrote one of the residents of the city of Zwickau in Saxony, Peter-Paul Richter, to Cardinal Konrad von Preising, Bishop of Berlin in March.

“Poles are cruel, you can’t imagine how they torture people. They are robbed and forced to starve to death. Stettin has become a city of death and suicide … Now Karl says: “Better to die in hell than return to Stettin.” The domination of the Poles is terrible, ”says Dora Klecin’s letter.

Letters from German settlers

“The whole of Silesia looks bleak. Germans there only vegetate, food is not given out there, children begging on the street, adults are trying to work for Poles or Russians, and whoever is close to starvation commits suicide. Wherever you look, everywhere there is immeasurable suffering: an army of homeless people, starving people, freezing people, people without occupation, separated … And you don’t know where this transfer will end, “Jutta Bernen noted.

In connection with such reports, the Soviet ambassador to Poland, Viktor Lebedev, in a coded telegram to Joseph Stalin, as well as to the leadership of the USSR People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, reported on the submission made to the Polish authorities about the inadmissibility of the inhumane conditions in which the export of German immigrants is carried out.

“I handed over to Bierut and Volsky a list of outrageous facts, communicated to me by telephone from Berlin, which spoke of the inadmissibility of the conditions in which Germans were being taken out of Poland. I received assurances that the existing practice will be drastically changed, ”the document says.

As noted in the RVIO, the most massive resettlement of Germans occurred in 1946-1947, when up to 2.3 million people left Poland. At the same time, the memoranda reflect the appalling state of the people who arrived in the zone of Soviet occupation. Thus, it was noted that the migrants arrived sick with dysentery, scabies, typhoid fever, frostbite due to travel in unheated carriages and exhausted.

“If the Polish authorities do not take urgent and effective measures to eliminate the above shortcomings, which contradict the decision of the Potsdam Conference on a humane method of resettlement and existing agreements on resettlement conditions, we will be forced … to raise the issue of stopping the admission of Germans from Poland to our zone,” – follows from the report of the head of the commandant service of the Soviet military administration in Germany, guard Major General Sergei Gorokhov, dated December 1946.

At the same time, it is noted that the Poles first of all expelled disabled citizens from the country. So, according to the testimony of Soviet officers, trains full of women, children and elderly people came from Poland. Warsaw tried to keep the able-bodied German population in its new territories as long as possible due to the shortage of Polish workers and the need to restore the country’s economy.

“Causes only sympathy and regret”

According to historians, the documents published by the RVIO shed light on the post-war attitude of the Soviet authorities towards the defeated. As a member of the scientific council of the RVIO, Yuri Nikiforov, told RT, the presented papers first of all indicate that the officials of the USSR at various levels showed serious concern about what is happening in Poland.

“We see that by handing over power to the Poles, as prescribed by various decisions, the USSR did not try to step aside and put up with the bacchanalia and violence against the civilian German population. For example, the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw received directives from the center, instructions to be sure to make suggestions to representatives of the Polish government, “Nikiforov said.

Cipher telegram from the Ambassador of the USSR to Poland Viktor Lebedev to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the USSR on December 16, 1945.

He stressed that in the Soviet zone of occupation of Germany, accepting refugees and deportees, they tried to resolve issues of their resettlement and resettlement in a new place.

“In general, the expulsion of Germans from Poland looks wild from the point of view of humanity. This looting, robberies against the German population, physical suffering, humiliation, death of loved ones causes only sympathy and regret, “the historian noted.

According to him, work with archives in Russia is carried out on a systematic, comprehensive basis.

A similar point of view is shared by Vladimir Shapovalov, deputy director of the Institute of History and Politics at Moscow State Pedagogical University. He stated that the release of archival documents sheds light on many aspects of historical events that were previously hushed up.

“Naturally, this story does not paint a democratic state, which Poland is positioning itself to be. After all, we are talking about the fact that large-scale deportation was combined with violent actions against ethnic Germans by the Poles. In turn, this is a tragedy for Germany. But in the post-war period, German society tried not to think about it, just to forget about these episodes, “the interlocutor of RT explained.

According to him, it is not customary to discuss this topic widely in modern Western society, so as not to aggravate the existing contradictions between the same Poland and Germany. In particular, in Warsaw, the issue of reparations from Berlin for the damage caused during the Second World War is still considered relevant.

“The discussion around this painful topic for many can lead to large-scale negative consequences, because then you will have to raise the question of how the deportation process took place. And this, in turn, will inevitably spark talk about massive violations of human rights by the Polish authorities and questions of possible restitution. In the context of difficult Polish-German relations, all this may ultimately contribute to the weakening of geopolitical ties within the EU, ”the expert believes.

At the same time, Shapovalov considers it necessary to publish documents of this kind in the context of attempts to rewrite history. According to the analyst, the West has got into the habit of blaming the Soviet Union for all troubles and turning a blind eye to the lawlessness that the Europeans themselves committed both during the war and in the post-war period.

“In this targeted campaign to falsify and rewrite history, which is designed to distort the historical past and turn the USSR from a country that won Nazi Germany into an accomplice of the Nazis, it is important for Russia to preserve its historical memory, to convey the real truth about certain aspects of history to everyone,” summed up Shapovalov.

Polina Dukhanova, Alena Medvedeva

Cover photo: A wagon train of German settlers in Danzig / © Bundesarchiv

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